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Instagram Enables Those Darn Amateurs to Muck Up Another Cozy Guild of Paid Professionals

A lot of people are celebrating the 2nd anniversary of Instagram’s first posted photo by bashing the service.

As Matthew Ingram points out at GigaOM, this kind of criticism has become a predictable rant: members of a professional community are never pleased when the amateurs get a chance to compete.

“This isn’t really that surprising: it’s the same kind of criticism that has been made about blogging, citizen journalism and Twitter, among other things — and in each case the critics have been somewhat right, but mostly wrong…. Running through many of these criticisms is a kind of anti-amateur argument: real photography should be left to professional photographers, real journalism should be left to professional journalists, and so on.”

Traditional publishers in the 1920s expressed similar distain for an upstart weekly magazine that summarized news for the on-the-go professional: Henry Luce’s Time Magazine.

No doubt it’s a bummer when an amateur fill-in-the-blank gains access to professional tools and produces — for free, just because he or she cares — good content that competes with stuff that erstwhile could only be created by a paid professional. (I know, these amateurs produce crap too; and so do the pros — turn on you TV and click upward from Channel 2 to 200 and see if it’s all ready for prime time.)

In the case of media, there are two kinds of tools that were once too expensive for the average Joe: the tools of production (a printing press, an Arri video camera, an Avid editing suite, etc) and the tools for distribution (delivery trucks, some rented spectrum on a broadcast satellite, an expensive pay-to-play deal with a cable operator, etc). New digital technologies have broken down many of these barriers to entry. You can shoot HD videos on your iPhone, publish your magazine on WordPress, your photo-journal on Tumblr or Instagram, and the work once done by delivery trucks has been supplanted by search engines and social sharing.

Most of the time greater competition creates higher quality stuff at lower costs. Sure, it stinks for the railroad baron to watch Henry Ford mass-producing cars or for the big record labels to acknowledge the rise of digital music. You end up with two choices. Mock, threaten and sue the new competition; or embrace innovation. History (and Clay Christensen) is pretty clear on which is the wiser choice.

And come on, people, look at the numbers. There are a lot more eyeballs looking at the 300 million “amateur” photos that are uploaded to Facebook everyday than will look at Vanity Fair’s photos in a month. The photos and videos that gave us access to the Arab Spring weren’t taken by photogs from CNN or NY Times. And if neat iPhone apps make pictures more appealing to your audience, then stop calling them cheap amateur cheats and start using them (like Sports Illustrated is doing). It’s time to change the question from “was this picture taken by paid, professional photographer?” to “does this picture deserve my attention?”

(This post first appeared on Ad Age under the headline Don’t Hate Instagram Because It’s Disrupting Another Profession.)

The First Issue of Ad Age

The first issue of Advertising Age, which hit the newsstands in January 1930, via Ad Age’s Instagram feed. Click on the Wikipedia W icon at the bottom of the image (Luminate’s Wikipedia app) to see a more current version of the magazine.

What’s Next After Taking and Sharing Photos?

In his recent article about Facebook, Instagram and the future of photos, Ad Age’s David Teicher remarks that “there’s more to photo innovation than filters.” Now that we’re taking all these pictures on our phones and sharing them across our social networks, what’s next? Adding functionality that will turn each photo into rich consumer experience, he says.

David interviewed me for the article, and asked me why images aren’t more interactive already:

Luminate CRO, Chas Edwards, notes a few obstacles to making this vision a reality. First is the work that goes into it. Right now, these services either rely on people-powered tagging, image recognition, or both, but the ability to scale this functionality — to make it easy for people to accurately tag the products or outfits in photos, were they so inclined, is not an easy endeavor. Secondly, there’s a reason people tag other people — they get paid, not in money, but in social currency, through ‘likes’ and ‘shares.’

Facebook is the leader when it comes to paying us in social currency for tagging images: There’s no better way to increase your “Like” counts than tagging others in the picture. But there isn’t a similar reward for tagging things in the image other than your friends, and Facebook’s brand tagging product hasn’t experienced popularity anywhere near that of friend tagging.

A few new startups (such as ThingLink) are hoping publishers will start tagging products and brands inside their own images. It’s still early days, but my hunch is that publishers don’t have the spare cycles necessary to add image-tagging to their queues, especially when you consider the enormous (and growing) volume of images posted each day by large publishers. Our bet here at Luminate is that publishers want (need?) to give their readers a richer image experience, but that we need to help them with the tagging. Image recognition gets us part of the way. Human assistance — communities of people working on top of crowdsourcing platforms — gets us the rest of way. Once we know who, what and where we’re looking at, we can deliver image apps that make a photo more delightful for almost anyone.

Publisher Strategy and the Image Explosion: Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Luminate

(Credit: Christina at Greige Design.)

It’s starting to feel like this photo frenzy isn’t just a passing phase. Maybe there’s some inescapable human affection for pretty pictures. We just can’t help ourselves.

As Antony Young, CEO of Mindshare North America, put it in his recent column for Ad Age:

We’re seeing a consumer movement toward a more visual culture brought on by technology and media. Smarter devices are prompting more occasions for people to create and consume visual content, while social media is encouraging that content to be shared on multiple platforms.

Facebook will tell you the same. When you talk to its executives or founders about the company’s inflection point, they’ll all tell you some variation of “It’s the pictures, stupid.” The Facebook community uploads 250 million photos a day, and one Harvard Business School study estimates that 70% of all activities inside the social network — from Liking and commenting to looking at friends’ content or uploading your own — revolves around photos.

Relative upstarts like Instagram and Pinterest are riding the image explosion too, bursting onto the scene with audience growth rates that are even steeper than Facebook’s or Twitter’s in their early years. Instagram went from launch to a million users in 2 months, and grew to 15 million by the end of 2011, at which point users were uploading 60 photos per second. Pinterest has grown from obscurity to 10 million pinners in 6 months.

There’s an underlying explanation for this image explosion, according to Shawn Graham at Fast Company: “Pinterest’s rapid ascent into the social strata has reemphasized something we’ve known since the day the first camera was invented way back in the 1800s — pictures matter.”

I’ll say! And we’re taking and sharing more of them than ever before. Ten percent of all photos taken by humankind were taken in the past 12 months.

Publishers are taking notice. Photo galleries have long been a staple of the user-experience at entertainment sites like Yahoo’s OMG and Entertainment Tonight. But news sites like CBS News and business publications from The New York Times to The Business Insider have gone photo-happy too. Readers process more information more quickly from images than from text, and thus images drive more audience engagement than text content. Everyone’s got an image strategy these days.

And like a publisher’s mobile strategy or social strategy, the image strategy needs to contemplate three elements:

1. Audience engagement.
How can images increase engagement among my existing audience?

Most publishers are making great progress on this front — investing in large, high-quality images on every page, and organizing clusters of them into galleries. The only catch is that sometimes the most “successful” images, the ones that are most effective at lighting up consumer interest, are also the ones that launch readers off your site. Your most passion-inspiring images drive visitors to Fox Sports to get an athlete’s stats, or to Wikipedia to get biographical info on a political figure, or to Macy’s or Gilt Group to shop for the fashions worn by a favorite celebrity. The image apps we create here at Luminate bring that content right into the image itself. If your happiest readers are using you own images to abandon you, it’s tough to argue that images should play a more prominent role in your digital publishing strategy — even if it’s the format your readers enjoy most.

2. Audience acquisition.
How can I convert that engagement into sharing?

Facebook and Twitter buttons are a start. Feeding image content into Instagram (as well as Facebook and Twitter) is another way for publishers to amplify their investment in images: It puts them inside social networks where the sharing activity is happening. According to Sharaholic Pinterest is driving more referral traffic than G+, YouTube, LinkedIn and Reddit combined. Pinterest makes “pinning” and saving images easy for users of its browser extension, and its integration with Facebook drives new eyeballs to those images (though not all those eyeballs convert into clicks back to the original publisher’s site). Luminate’s social apps are another approach. Rather than waiting for readers to download the Pinterest applet, publishers can present all of their readers with apps attached to each image. Several of Luminate’s apps, for example, facilitate positional image-sharing — attaching a comment to the part of the image he or she wants his friends to check out.

3. Revenue.
How does the strategy help me make more money?

One approach that’s gaining traction among smaller sites: Just put ads at the bottom of images, the image equivalent of the overlays at the bottom of YouTube videos. As long as the ad message inside the overlay is highly relevant to the image content, overlays are a reasonable approach. An even better approach, I’d argue, is delivering advertising that’s attached to a user-initiated bonus content experience. If a brand sponsors relevant content and services that enhance an image, the reader is much more likely to pay attention.

(A version of this post appears at Ad Age, under the headline In An Age of Pinterest, Instagram, Marketers Need An Image Strategy. And if you live in a rainy part of the world, Om Malik recommends you add this post to your weekend reading list. Thanks, Om!)

Luminate Makes Ad Age List of Top 10 Startups

Woo hoo! Thanks, Ad Age. From its 10 Startups to Watch report:

There are more than 3 trillion images on the web, Luminate execs like to say. And while the diversity of those images is enormous, there’s no straightforward way to identify and capitalize on the contents of those images. Enter Luminate. Launched as Pixazza three years ago by Jim Everingham, the company’s mission sounds simple: “To make images more interactive,” as Chief Revenue Officer Chas Edwards put it. But in practice, it’s anything but simple. Luminate uses a combination of image-recognition software and human research to tag products and attributes found within images across the internet.

ChasNote Ranked 311th Best Marketing Blog by Ad Age

Holy smokes — there are more than 311 marketing blogs?! (Here are the .) Well, now’s no time to focus on the negative. It appears ChasNote has jumped up 113 positions since last month. Mom, I hope you’re reading this.

ChasNote is 311 on Ad Age Power 150 List

Online Display Ads Are Old Media

Great article about the evolution of digital brand marketing at Ad Age:

“The inconvenient truth is that for all its new-media spin, display advertising is ‘old’ media — a commercial message to be placed next to editorial or entertainment content. And we know by now that measured-media growth has pretty much ground to a halt as marketers continue to increase their dollars in unmeasured disciplines such as web development, public relations and database marketing at the expense of paid advertising. Ad spending among the top 100 U.S. advertisers last year grew a paltry 1.7%, with measured media only up 0.3%. Measured-media spending is in decline in Japan, and it’s not much better in the U.K.”

AdAge's Newspaper Death Watch

AdAge is launching a series of articles tracking the efforts of America’s 1,437 daily newspapers as they attempt to get their mojo (and revenues) back. The grim math by Annenberg’s Jeffrey Cole goes like this:

“‘When an offline reader of a paper dies, he or she is not being replaced by a new reader,’ he said. ‘How much time do they have? We think they have 20 to 25 years.’”

The series will also watch what the Project for Excellence in Journalism calls “decoupling of news and advertising.”

Here’s Battelle from a piece he contributed to American Express’s blog on the decoupling of content creation from advertising, about a month before the piece by the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Green Campaigns Get Noticed, Though Some Backfire

Nielsen numbers analyzed by Ad Age suggest that consumer do prefer green brands, products and services, but that brands that push too hard on the theme — GE and Starbucks are called out — invite scrutiny that may bring with it an online backlash.

Starbucks Fair Trade

Jeff Lanctot Says Ad Spend Moving Away From Portals

Avenue A’s senior VP for global media isn’t worried about Microsoft buying Yahoo. Or, as the Silicon Alley Insider headline puts it, “Microsoft + Yahoo = Irrelevant.”

“”There’s a perspective that going from three portals to two is bad for buyers. But spend is actually moving away from portals and much more broadly across the web, so I’m actually not concerned about moving from three to two, because we are really moving from 3 to 800.”

More at Ad Age:

“For the first time in the past four years, portals lost share of ad dollars year over year — at least from Avenue A/Razorfish, which releases its latest Digital Outlook report today. The shift comes after years of ad-dollar consolidation with the largest players online. In 2007, 19% of Avenue A’s media spending went to portals, down from 24% in 2006.”